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Break Out Boxes Break the Classroom Norm

This past Wednesday and Thursday, teacher Ahzha McFadden’s freshman World History classes did their first break out boxes, also called escape boxes. Break out boxes are similar to escape rooms where you must solve riddles, codes, and clues in order to get out, but the objective is to break into the box and get the reward, candy.

Students attempt to enter the right combination.

McFadden believes that break out boxes can teach her students vital life skills. "When I think about teaching, I want to think about what skills people need to be humans in the real world. They need to communicate with others, work as a team, and not give up," she said.

"I don't make them easy. I don't make them so you break in on the first try" -McFadden

McFadden makes four slightly different boxes and her students work in teams to be the first ones to solve it. McFadden says that she likes to make her break out boxes "challenging but not impossible" and that "you're meant to fail the first time but that's okay." She hopes that her break out boxes will encourage a sense of "resilience" and perseverance in her students, saying "you have to not give up, ever, if you run into difficulties [because] that's how life is."

After breaking in, Ava Smyth said, "I didn't know what to expect. We just had to keep on trying things [until we got in]."

Rohan Sharma searches a globe for clues.

To break in, her students had to read invisible ink with a black light, solve riddles revealing the combinations to two different locks, and find the key to the third lock that shut close the box filled with candy. They also had to reconstruct a world map which many thought to be the hardest challenge. Sometimes clues lead students out of McFadden's classroom. "They have to go to different places around the school and meet different people like the people in B-20 or the councilors or the secretaries in the office."

Right before they opened the first lock!

McFadden recently purchased lenses that show different colors when you place them over your eye and hopes to use them in future break out boxes. McFadden revealed that "This year [she] might incorporate research or primary source document analysis... they [would] have to analyze it correctly or look for clues in the primary source documents in order to... break into that lock or to advance to the next step" rather than sticking to "just the topic review boxes."

Tess Buckley uses a blacklight to read a hidden message.

Break out boxes force students to communicate with people they usually would not talk to and cooperate as a group in order to solve the different stages of the challenge. McFadden says "If you try to do it with just one or two people you're never breaking in" because "different people's brains work in different ways."

Riddles test students' prior knowledge and map reading skills.

Break out boxes also serve as a review for her students; the riddles and clues relate to what they learn in class. McFadden explains "I like to do things that people would do for fun but bring history and geography and social studies and all this stuff we're learning into it. That way, hopefully, people will remember it more if they had fun while reviewing." Minja Malua said "I liked being able to physically interact [with the activity] instead of just writing down on a worksheet."

Reconstructing this map proved to be a challenge.

It takes McFadden about two to three hours to design the break out boxes with help the of her husband, whose creativity adds an "extra dimension of challenge" to the boxes. It takes an hour to set them up the first time, and after every class 20 minutes to reset them. McFadden says "It's a lot of work to think backwards with making clues because I don't like to use the prepackaged ones that are online because they are not as relevant ... for my class."

"Congratulations! You solved the mystery and unlocked the treasure!"

"The hardest thing is setting it up and making sure it's all in the correct place." Last year McFadden devoted three days throughout the year to solving different break out boxes, but this year she wants to raise it to five.

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